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October 19, 2014 / mintcustard

Trick or treat bites – a Halloween party recipe

Trick or treat bites

Trick or treat bites

Why make Trick or Treat bites? Despite the fact that my two are now too big to fit into the cute costumes and have graduated into those outfits that would make Nell Gwynne blush, they still love the idea of Trick or Treating. Nowadays they have to use a much younger relative as an excuse to knock on doors and fill buckets with sweeties. If you do have a Halloween party or just would like a treat rather than a trick then these bites are for you. The treat is in the chocolate, the trick is in the hidden popping candy!


100g shortcake biscuits

100g digestive biscuits

25g rice crispies

125g butter or margarine (melted)

1tbsp cocoa

1 tbsp golden syrup

popping candy (mine is from Asda)

Halloween sprinkles (mine were from Aldi)

100g bar of chocolate, milk or plain as you prefer

6″ by 6″ square tin lined with cling film


How to …

  1. In a mixing bowl, using the end of a rolling pin, crush the biscuits into crumbs. You could use the fill a plastic bag and whack with a wooden spoon method if you want. You could use a food processor but that takes all the fun out of it. Stir in the rice crispies.
  2. In a large saucepan melt the butter, cocoa and syrup together to make a sauce.
  3. Pour the chocolate sauce onto the biscuit crumbs and rice crispies and combine thoroughly.
  4. Tip the chocolaty rubble into the lined tin and press down. Put into the fridge to set.
  5. Once set melt the chocolate and pour over the biscuit base.
  6. Scatter over the Halloween sprinkles and the popping candy. There will be a little popping set off by the chocolate but not too much.
  7. Refrigerate once more until the chocolate is set. Cut into 16 pieces and serve. This is best served from the fridge as it is only the cold that holds it together.
October 18, 2014 / mintcustard

Pumpkin and sausage pilaf


These cold evenings really make you want to hunker down, eat comfort food and spend time by a roaring fire. A big steaming bowl of deliciously autumnal flavours hits the right spot.

For some reason or other pumpkins and squashes are only really favoured for their carving qualities in the UK but we are missing out on an wonderful vegetable. I love to roast squashes, simply. Slicked with a little olive oil, scattered with salt and freshly ground pepper I pop chunks of squash onto a baking tray and into a hot oven for 30 to 45 minutes until the squash yields to a knife point and is a litle charred at the edges. Strip off the pumpkin skin and put to one side.

pumpkin and sausage pilaf

pumpkin and sausage pilaf

To make a pilaf simple cook down a finely chopped onion and a clove of garlic in a splash of oil and a knob of butter until soft, golden and sticky. Take about 6 to 8 sausages, pinch and twist them into three or four smaller sausages. Pop them into a pan and brown the sausages off on all sides. Add several handfulls of basmati rice and turn them over in the sausage drippings until the rice becomes translucent. Pour over enough chicken stock to cover, stir and simmer gently until the rice is almost cooked through. If you need to add

Roasted butternut squash

Roasted butternut squash

more stock then please do.  Place the roasted squash on top and turn through the rice. Cook until the rice is done and the squash is warmed through.

Serve with a nice glass of cold white wine and a crisp green salad.

If you feel like leaving out the sausages and using mushrooms instead you can.

October 18, 2014 / mintcustard

The Chocolate Show

I am sure you are all aware that I consider chocolate a food group, such is it’s importance to my well being. I was so pleased then, to be invited to the Preview evening of The Chocolate Show at Olympia. After a day at school, a staff meeting and a trip on the train and overground my day was well and truly made when I put on my badge. One day!

Living the dream!

Living the dream!

The Olympia West venue is new to me but spacious and easy to get to. I have to say I was initially drawn to the event, lured by the Chocolate fashion show.


That was brilliant, and to be serenaded by Willy Wonka was the fulfilment of a childhood dream, however the chocolatiers and their passion for their products is what has stayed with me.

My hero!

My hero!

Big producers were in attendance showcasing new products. Lindt I am in love with the Lime Intense bar and will be hot footing it to Tesco get a bar of the Roasted sesame dark chocolate bar too.


Familiar names too, Rococo has me addicted to their Pear william caramels. They are so pretty if I didn’t think I could keep my hands off them I’d have them varnished and made into a necklace!


Chatting to amazing producers and distributors showed me just how much more chocolate there is in the world for me to taste and discover – result. If you haven’t come across Cocoa Runners I suggest you take a look. I was bowled over by the obvious pride and pleasure they take in sharing the chocolate bars they source for across the globe. All this and they will post them to you too. I know I solved a few Xmas present conundrums with the boxes on their website too.

If I had had time I would have loved to return later in the weekend for the demonstrations and cookery shows too.

Thanks for asking me to the preview, I had a fun and very informative time.

October 13, 2014 / mintcustard

Chocolate sponge and pink custard – the recipe.

It is Chocolate week. As you can see from Mintcustard chocolate is an ingredient I almost regard as an essential. For my recipe to celebrate Chocolate week, I’ve returned to my roots and I’m sharing one of the most iconic school dinners recipes ever. Chocolate sponge and pink custard! If you want more school dinner recipes you can find them here, in my book, Good old fashioned school dinners.

Chocolate cake

3 large eggs – weighed

weight of eggs in butter

weight of eggs in caster sugar

weight of eggs in self raising flour

2 tbsp cocoa

2 tbsp milk


Pink custard – one pack of pink blancmange mix

How to

  • Pre heat the oven to 160c.
  • Line a 8″ by 12″ cake tin.
  • Cream together the butter and sugar until it is pale and fluffy.
  • Add in the eggs one at a time, with a tbsp of flour after each egg to prevent curdling.
  • Fold in the remaining flour.
  • Add the cocoa and 2 tbsp milk to the mixture.
  • Fill the cake tin with cake batter. Give the cake tin a tap to level the batter.
  • Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes and then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

Following the instructions on the pack make the pink blancmange but don’t put it in the fridge to set. This is your pink custard!

Cut the cake into rectangles, pour over the pink custard and indulge.

October 12, 2014 / mintcustard

Purple carrot cake. Made with purple carrots!

Grated purple carrot.

Grated purple carrot.

How did a purple carrot cake come about? I’m not one for throwing food away. I also have a really soft spot for heritage vegetables. Last week I spotted a tray of purple carrots in Waitrose and bought them. Then, because life got really hectic last week, I totally forgot about them. When I rediscovered them they were a little bendy and not really good for much. Except making a carrot cake. I was certain it would taste good, my main concern was what it would look like. My concern turned to panic when I posted a picture halfway throught the baking process and a friend said she thought it looked like lentil soup!

Hmm, fair point!

Hmm, fair point!

Despite the fact that when I actually grated the carrots, the variety I had bought was one with an orange core the purple colour was dominant. The carrot shards resembled edible Halloween confetti! To emphasise the purple I used a mixture of caster sugar and soft brown sugar, rather than all brown.  I needn’t have worried about the cake at all. The result was moist, delicious and beautifully flecked with purple.

Purple carrot cake

Purple carrot cake

I used and adapted the BBC Good Food recipe which can be found online here.

If you come across a pile of purple carrots, why not use a few to add a little halloween colour to your baking? Make a purple carrot cake.

October 11, 2014 / mintcustard

An apple pancake breakfast.

Apple pancakes.

Apple pancakes.

When I was little my dad used to make the best apple fritters. They were usually cooked in bacon drippings and sausage fat and sat alongside a full English as a curious accompanyment. He used a simple milk and flour batter, and they were designed tokeep you full up until lunch.

My fruit bowl is full of little apples, I looked at them wondering what to do and they friters popped back into my memory out of nowhere. I really didn’t fancy a full English to go with but a lighter version of the fritters would go down a treat. I decided to use a version of a waffle batter. I wanted to be able to cook the apple through slowly and soften but I still wanted the pancake shell to be crisp and soufleed too.

Here is how I did it. (makes pancakes with 4 large or 8 small eating apples)


125g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

10g caster sugar

240ml milk

1 egg

1 tbsp oil

pinch of salt

Oil and butter to fry

1 large or two small apples per person

icing sugar ond or cinnamon to dust

How to..

  • Sift the flour, salt  and baking powder into a bowl.
  • Make a well in the centre of the ingredients. Break in the egg, pour in the milk and oil.
  • Whisk together until just combined. Don’t be too fierce as the pancakes will become heavy.
  • Peal and core your apples. Cut each apple into 1cm thick rings.
peeled and cored apples.

peeled and cored apples.

  • Place the apple rings into the batter.
  • Heat your large frying pan or pancake pan.
  • Add a splash of oil and a small knob of butter to the pan.
Get the butter nice and hot.

Get the butter nice and hot.

  • Lay the battered apple rings into the pan and turn down the heat to medium as you want the apple to cook and soften whilst the batter becomes a golden brown. This takes 1 to 2 minutes
Once in the pan, low and slow!

Once in the pan, low and slow!

  • Turn over and cook on the other side, again for 1 to 2 minutes.

Serve these apple pancakes with a little icing sugar. Bacon and sausages are an optional extra.

October 10, 2014 / mintcustard

Pork and Co – Canterbury, a must visit for pilgrims and pagans alike.


I am positive that visitors to Britain must think we have a law that states you should be able to buy a woollen jumper or fudge within 50 yards of a historic monument! I really wish that law could be amended to include a branch of Pork and Co.

I love pulled pork, both in restaurants and I make a version at home but when my daughter told me she had had the “best pulled pork ever” at a food fair in Canterbury I knew she was onto something.

Last week, during an emergency dash to a Uni student in Canterbury to renew a passport, I finally got to try this “best pulled pork ever” for myself. And I have to say the daughter was right. When I saw a whole slow roasted pig laying in the window waiting to be turned into lunch I had a feeling this could be good.


Just around the corner from the cathedral, juxtaposed by the aforementioned woollen wear shops, fudge factories and tea shops sits this gem.


For a measly fiver this is what I got. A home made brioche roll, stuffed with freshly pulled pork and topped with a choice of slaws, stuffing or in my case black pudding is finally adorned with a sauce. I chose apple butter and it was tangy enough to cut through the gelatinous stickiness that makes pulled pork so addictive and apply enough to balance the umami of the bun. A strip of crackling snack into that bun somewhere too.


Also on offer were scotch eggs, sausage rolls and big bags of proper pork scratchings.


Not that they really need it but they also do a loyalty card, buy five and get the sixth pulled pork roll free. I think that is right but as you can imaging the card is now in the students purse and not mine so I can’t check!


If you happen to be in Canterbury, hell if you happen to be South of the Thames you should visit Pork and Co. You can also get fudge and a wooly jumper nearby too if you feel the need.


September 29, 2014 / mintcustard

Swedish tea ring – a blast from the past.

Swedish tea ring

Swedish tea ring

Swedish tea ring

 Sitting down to watch Bake Off this week I was expecting a big pile of doughnuts and scattering of innuendo. What I got was transportation back to the school canteen in the very early 80s. For some reason Swedish tea ring was served as a pudding, alongside a beaker of milky coffee from an urn. Thank you Richard for reminding me and this weekend you can be 13 again if you follow this recipe too.

We organised ourselves into little groups at school. Cliques formed around music, makeup and occasionally geekiness. Each clique had its own rules and codes.

Our clique had several weekly rituals. My favourite one revolved around the fact that everyone else’s life was significantly more exciting than mine. As soon as the paperboy dropped the new copy of Jackie through the door it was taken to school. The articles were read, the makeup tips and clothing features were discussed and the problem of which poster to take off your bedroom wall so you could put up this week’s pin up was mulled over. The best was saved until last, the problem page. Oh how we wished we were the ones plagued by the reader’s problems. Wouldn’t it be great to have two boys wanting to kiss you at the youth club disco? How awful that the boy hadn’t paid for her bus fare, of course she should dump him! No one ever wanted to admit that, like the girl in the magazine, they fancied their friend’s brother but we all secretly did.

Happily for us the arrival of the magazine often coincided with Swedish tea ring for pudding. Seriously sophisticated and grown up fare, at least that’s what we thought, as we ate this iced cinnamon spiced bun and drank the milky coffee that went along with it. In our minds we were transformed from spotty thirteen year olds into louche philosophers discussing the important questions of the moment. David Cassidy or Donny Osmond, is it possible to like both?

Swedish tea ring ready for the oven.

Swedish tea ring ready for the oven.



650g strong white bread flour

60g caster sugar

75g white vegetable fat or lard

1 egg

1 tsp salt

180ml warm milk

150ml warm water

1 sachet yeast


50g softened butter

50g caster sugar

50g soft brown sugar

3 tsp ground cinnamon


150g icing sugar

Enough water to create a stiff paste

How to …….

Pre heat oven to 375f /190c/gas 5

  1. Place the warm water in a jug and stir in a sprinkle of sugar and the yeast. Leave out of any drafts until the yeast has doubled in size.
  2. Into a large bowl sieve the flour and stir in the sugar and salt. Cut the lard or vegetable shortening into the flour and rub in until the vegetable fat resembles breadcrumbs
  3. Pour in the warm milk and stir to begin to incorporate, now add the beaten egg and the yeast mixture. Using a round bladed knife mix until the dough comes together.
  4. Using your hands knead the dough gently but effectively for 5 minutes or so until the dough becomes smooth and silky. The dough is very soft and “loose” you may need more flour on your work surface as you work it.
  5. Make the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl. Cover with a damp cloth. Leave for an hour and a half until well risen.
  6. Knock back (punch the dough in the middle to deflate it) and let it rise again for another 45 minutes.
  7. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough out to approximately 30cm x 20 cm.
  8. In a small bowl beat together the butter, white, brown sugar and the cinnamon. Spread this over the dough and roll up the dough lengthwise. Place seam side down and join the ends to make a ring.
  9. Taking a sharp knife make cuts every 2cm. Cut ¾ of the way through the ring and twist each cut to expose the butter mixture.
  10. Leave to rise again for 30 minutes and then bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
  11. Once cool but still warm ice with the icing mixture and serve slices with milky coffee and a copy of Smash Hits.

September 14, 2014 / mintcustard

Jaffa cake slices

Jaffa cake slices.

Jaffa bars

Jaffa bars

I do love a jaffa cake, but the problem is one is never enough. Once the pack is opened they seem to vanish. Almost certainly into my mouth ready to be washed down with a bucket full of tea. So my theory behind these barsis, if I make them bigger than your average Jaffa cake I will need to eat only one, or two at a push. Well that’s the theory anyway!!!!

For the base
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 75g plain flour, sieved
For the filling
  • 1 x 135g/4¾oz packet orange jelly, chopped
  • 1 tbsp orange marmalade
  • 125ml/4½fl oz boiling water


  • 200g/7oz good quality chocolate, 100g milk, 100g dark

Preparation method

  1.  For the filling, in a bowl, mix together the jelly, marmalade and boiling water until the jelly has dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Line your 6″ by 11″ tin with cling film. Pour the filling mixture into the tin  to form a 1cm/½in layer of jelly. Set aside until completely cooled, then chill in the fridge until set.
  2. Remove from the tray when set, place on a board and keep in the fridge until later.
Jelly layer

Jelly layer



  • Add the eggs and sugar to a large bowl and beat continuously for 4-5 minutes, or until the mixture is pale, fluffy and tripled in volume.
  • Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
  • Add the flour, fold in carefully.
  • Line the 6″ by 11″ tin you used for the filling with parchment. Pour in the batter.  Transfer the tin to the oven and bake the cake for 8-10 minutes, or until pale golden-brown and cooked through (the cake is cooked through when a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.) Remove from the oven and set the cake aside, still in the tray, until cool.
Fatless sponge base

Fatless sponge base

  • When the jelly has set and the cake has cooled, lay the jelly layer over the cake.
Jaffa layer waiting for the chocolate.

Jaffa layer waiting for the chocolate.

  • Bring a little water to the boil in a pan, then reduce the heat until the water is simmering. Suspend a heatproof bowl over the water (do not allow the base of the bowl to touch the water). Add the chocolate and stir until melted, smooth and glossy, then pour over the cake.
  • Set aside until the melted chocolate has cooled and set.
  • Cut into bars and indulge.
Jaffa cake slice

Jaffa cake slice


September 7, 2014 / mintcustard

How to stop your student from starving!

So, last year I watched as the door closed on me and my eldest walked away into her future. I was petrified for her. I had spent the past 18 years keeping her fed, watered and alive and she was going to spend the next three doing the exact opposite. I should know, thirty years previously I’d done the same.

I shouldn’t have worried, after a successful first year and what seems like an endless summer break I am looking forward to her return to Uni.

She survived, so how did that happen? Well I don’t have a magic bullet but I can pass on what worked in this house, and it might work in yours too. No student needs to live on a diet of pot noodles, cheesy pasta or bowls of cereal, unless they want to of course.

  • Budget. Them and you. I got a “care package” organised for the older one to take. When I went shopping and essentials were buy one get one free, one was for us and one went in the box. Washing liquid, loo rolls, hand wash and shower gel. You know the sorts of things. Stick in a few treats – chocolate digestives and flying saucers here!
  • If you get your food delivered, take your student shopping. They will not have a clue! Look at the costs of things. If they only eat Heinz ketchup(!), then they have to economise elsewhere. Get them used to comparing prices and quantities.
  • Shop savvy. Supermarkets often reduce their near sell buy produce towards the end of the day. Pop in and check. Buy and freeze meat and fish for another day. If they have never been into Lidl or Aldi then introduce them to the concept!
  • Encourage market shopping and buying local seasonal produce. Cheaper and ethical.
  • Show them how to make basic recipes. Ones your family eat often. A ragu can be used for spaghetti, pasta bake, lasagne, shepherds pie, jazzed up to make chilli, popped in a baked potato. A basic white sauce is useful.
  • Portion control. Explain how much uncooked pasta or rice makes up a portion.
  • Introduce them to frozen veg. A few bags in the freezer will increase their vitamin intake to more than just the salad from a kebab. A handful or two in some stock makes a quick soup. If nothing else it will be usefulwhen someone falls on the way back from a night out and needs to ice the injury!
  • Show them how to bulk out a dish, with beans, with pulses and with grains. A pack of soup mix can make a soup, give texture to a casserole and at a pinch be sed to blind bake pastry.
  • Get every loyalty card going. Nectar points, clubcard points and a MyWaitrose card will all give the odd benefit or voucher. Useful and free.
  • Buy them a bag for life.
  • In my day it was a Toastie machine. This time around, the George Forman grill has been a revelation, and a slow cooker is also going into the student kitchen.
  • Be prepared to talk phone calls, emails and texts asking how to cook a family favourite. I explained Pommes Daupinoise via text last year.
  • Suggest that they share the purchase of  bulk items as a flat/house/group of friends. Set the rules up front, ie have a kitty or make sure everyone is prepared to pay their share by a certain day.
  • Some supermarkets (Sainsburys and Asda) have student/parent cards. The student has one half and the parent has the other. The parent can top up the card and the student can spend it. We aimed to just have perhaps ten pounds on the card. Useful for emergencies, and running out of vodka doesn’t count!
  • Be prepared to shop everytime you visit. Ditto take out to lunch or dinner.

They will survive. They may not eat exactly what you’d like them to, but after a week of pasta, passata and grated cheese they might just get online and read your blog to find out how to make one pot roast chicken dinners!



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